The Bee Meeting by Sylvia Plath

Who are these people at the bridge to meet me? They are the villagers–
The rector, the midwife, the sexton, the agent for bees.
In my sleeveless summery dress I have no protection,
And they are all gloved and covered, why did nobody tell me?
They are smiling and taking out veils tacked to ancient hats.

I am nude as a chicken neck, does nobody love me?
Yes, here is the secretary of bees with her white shop smock,
Buttoning the cuffs at my wrists and the slit from my neck to my knees.
Now I am milkweed silk, the bees will not notice.
They will not smell my fear, my fear, my fear.

Which is the rector now, is it that man in black?
Which is the midwife, is that her blue coat?
Everybody is nodding a square black head, they are knights in visors,
Breastplates of cheesecloth knotted under the armpits.
Their smiles and their voces are changing. I am led through a beanfield.

Strips of tinfoil winking like people,
Feather dusters fanning their hands in a sea of bean flowers,
Creamy bean flowers with black eyes and leaves like bored hearts.
Is it blood clots the tendrils are dragging up that string?
No, no, it is scarlet flowers that will one day be edible.

Now they are giving me a fashionable white straw Italian hat
And a black veil that molds to my face, they are making me one of them.
They are leading me to the shorn grove, the circle of hives.
Is it the hawthorn that smells so sick?
The barren body of hawthon, etherizing its children.

Is it some operation that is taking place?
It is the surgeon my neighbors are waiting for,
This apparition in a green helmet,
Shining gloves and white suit.
Is it the butcher, the grocer, the postman, someone I know?

I cannot run, I am rooted, and the gorse hurts me
With its yellow purses, its spiky armory.
I could not run without having to run forever.
The white hive is snug as a virgin,
Sealing off her brood cells, her honey, and quietly humming.

Smoke rolls and scarves in the grove.
The mind of the hive thinks this is the end of everything.
Here they come, the outriders, on their hysterical elastics.
If I stand very still, they will think I am cow-parsley,
A gullible head untouched by their animosity,

Not even nodding, a personage in a hedgerow.
The villagers open the chambers, they are hunting the queen.
Is she hiding, is she eating honey? She is very clever.
She is old, old, old, she must live another year, and she knows it.
While in their fingerjoint cells the new virgins

Dream of a duel they will win inevitably,
A curtain of wax dividing them from the bride flight,
The upflight of the murderess into a heaven that loves her.
The villagers are moving the virgins, there will be no killing.
The old queen does not show herself, is she so ungrateful?

I am exhausted, I am exhausted —
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch.
The villagers are untying their disguises, they are shaking hands.
Whose is that long white box in the grove, what have they accomplished, why am I cold.


Robert Phillips says, “The Bee Meeting opens with a vivid imaging of the poet’s vulnerability before the hive. In the poem, all the villagers but her are protected from the bees, and she equates this partial nudity with her condition of being unloved. In the symbolic marriage ceremony which follows, a rector, a midwife, and she herself—a bride clad in black—appear. She seems to remember that even the arrows which Eros used to shoot into the ground to create new life were poisoned darts.
And just as her search for a Divine Father was tempered by her fear there was none—that God would be nothing more than, say, the Wizard of Oz, a little man with a big wind machine—so, too, her search for consolation from her earthly father creates an intensity of consciousness in which she no longer has any guarantee of security. Eros for her is ever accompanied by the imminence of death. Certainly every mythology relates the sex act to death, perhaps most clearly in the tale of Tristan and Iseult. In nature, the connection is even more explicit: Always the male bee dies after inseminating the Queen. Plath’s personal mythology anticipates this.
If the central figure of authority, the Queen, is her father, then the daughter/worker must die after the incestuous act, as she does at the conclusion of “The Bee Meeting” and as Plath did at the conclusion of her suicide attempts. The long white box in the grove is in fact her own coffin, only in this light can the poem’s protagonist answer her own questions.
“What have they accomplished, why am I cold.”
The Bee Poems are often read as a parable of female self-assertion or narrative rite of rebirth, affirming the integrity of the creative self, and thus furnishing an alternative, more hopeful ending for Plath’s career. Yet if on one level the poems can be seen as forging a personal mythology of survival, on another their dreamlike logic of displacement and condensation resists narratives of self-realization anchored in a stable notion of the subject.
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